Backing a Winner

As some of you may know, I am an avid skier and ski & teach at the Georgian Peaks Club. It is a private ski club (a phenomena known only to Ontario). The club has about 750 families and has a reputation for strong competitive ski and snowboard development programs that have produced a number of Alpine Canada National Team Members.

Last June, I was reading the club's newsletter, the Peaks Periodical, and was startled to read a column written by Larisa Yurkiw, a member of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team and a member at Georgian Peaks.

Larisa is a 25 year old athlete who specializes in the Downhill, the speed sport of Alpine skiing. She had been a member of the National team for 7 years and was a favourite going into the Vancouver Olympics. Unfortunately, she massively blew out her knee just weeks before the opening ceremonies, destroying her ACL, MCL, patellar tendon and both menisci. The injury sidelined Larisa for two years. In her words, only after receiving three surgeries, getting someone else’s ACL, a staple, a couple of synthetic darts, 115 massages, 350 chiropractic appointments, 540 hours of physiotherapy, 680 hours in the pool, 950 hours in the gym and just 65 hours on snow was she able to return to the world of competitive skiing. (To understand Larisa's journey back, click here). Neither Larisa’s physical or mental state were ready for the challenges faced in this aggressive sport when she returned to racing in the 2012/13 season. Her results suffered and in April of 2013 when faced with hard funding decisions, Alpine Canada dropped Larisa from the National Team and her funding was gone.

Thus was born Team Larisa Racing and Larisa “the entrepreneur”.  Unable to give up her dream, Larisa felt she had at least one more year of racing left in her and set an objective to get to Sochi. In her way were the challenges of achieving either two top 12 finishes or four top 20 finishes in the 2013/14 season prior to Sochi, in addition to raising $150,000 in funding to support her travel, pay her coach and fund her quest. In Start-up world terminology, she was undertaking the ultimate “bootstrap”.

This was her request in that article published by the Peaks Periodical in June. A request to help her fulfill her dream.

I didn’t really know Larisa. I knew of her but had never really talked to her yet her message inspired me to act. That evening, I discussed with Pat (my wife and business partner) the thought of sponsoring her. Her reaction was immediate; “do it”.

Not knowing what I was getting into, I reached out to Larisa via email asking her to meet. Early in July, just before she headed off to her first training camp in Europe, Pat & I met Larisa. What immediately struck me was how similar she was to so many of the entrepreneurs that I mentor. She displayed the same burning passion to succeed and the vision of what was possible, but like all really good entrepreneurs, her head wasn’t in the cloud. She was aware of the brutal realities of the challenge of first raising $150,000 and then performing to a level to earn an Olympic qualifying spot, plus all with the stress of not letting down those supporting her.

I think Larisa was surprised and shocked when after an hour, Pat and I agreed to become a corporate sponsor. Frankly, joining Team Larissa Racing was one of the easiest decisions that I have ever made. It was also easy for me to reach out to other possible sponsors that I knew had the means and were wired to react to the same motivations that I had felt.

So why this blog? There is an old saying in sales that “People buy from people”. That is why the best product doesn’t always win but rather people buy from the people they trust and like, even when the product isn’t superior. The same thing applies to fundraising. People invest in people they like and trust. They invest in commitment, determination and raw skill. Remember that if you are an entrepreneur pitching your business. It is not only about your product or your story, it is about you.  

The amazing milestone to Larisa story happened on January 11, 2014 when Larisa finished 6th at Altenmarkt-Zuachensee, Austria, earning her 2nd top twelfth finish and ultimately qualifying for Sochi. Shortly thereafter Larisa and then Erin Mielzynski (another Georgian Peaks racer specializing in the Slalom event) were both announced as members of the 2014 Canadian Olympic Team.

I hope you enjoy this video. It was the Georgian Peaks Alpine Program's send off for Larisa and Erin filmed last weekend. Ladies: Good luck in Sochi.


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